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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Chilly weather foils plans for an early growing season

Cold snap provided time to concentrate on indoor seedings

In gardening, no one year is ever quite like another. We learn to take notice of weather patterns and alter plans as needed.

I felt sure, with the mild early February weather, that spring-like conditions would soon arrive. I began preparing plots for extra-early seedings of the hardier vegetables, but only managed to complete the broad bean plantings before winter-like weather returned during the latter half of February, followed by a chilly early March.

Clearly, a change in plan was required. While nasty weather prevailed, I concentrated on indoor seeding. By the second week of this month, all three tiers of my plant light fixture were filled and overflowing with seedlings in various stages on their way to transplant size. Their next staging area, prior to being planted in the garden, needed to be readied.

On Sunday, March 13, I took advantage of reasonable weather to empty, sweep out and wash down the interior of my little greenhouse that, miraculously, is still standing after many years, despite a crumbly wooden base.

That day, I moved three flats into the freshly cleaned greenhouse. They were from among the hardiest plants: one flat of leeks, one of a viola already showing little flower buds on a few of the plants, and a third of Tom Thumb lettuce — a longtime favourite for its easy-growing, hardy nature and for the small butterhead lettuces fully packed with succulent cream and green leaves. Tom Thumb is an heirloom dating back to 1830. My seed source is West Coast Seeds.

All three flats are doing well in the greenhouse, Onion and cabbage seedlings have joined them, in the beginning of a spring-long relay of flats from plant lights to greenhouse to garden beds or outdoor containers. A minimum-maximum thermometer lets me know each morning what the overnight low temperature was and how warm it became during the previous day.

The greenhouse project that Sunday left me a little time to amble about the garden, checking on its current “happenings.” In the front garden, long-established, broad heathers were blooming in white and pink, along with primulas. In the back, the raspberries had begun to open their leaf buds, and the broad beans, seeded Feb. 7, were starting to poke through the soil.

The fragrance of sweet violets (Viola odorata) was in the air, from small patches of the flowering plants throughout the garden. One clump of the violets had spread itself in among some dwarf daffodils, which were also in bloom.

The violets forming a close-knit mat under and around the daffodils is a fortuitous arrangement, because the violet planting constitutes a barrier to egg laying by the narcissus bulb fly, whose larvae burrow into daffodil bulbs to feed on and destroy the bulbs.

Best ever kiwis. One of the friends I share my kiwi crop with is from New Zealand and loves kiwi fruit. She agrees with me that last year’s harvest was the best yet. I think it was the long, hot summer that packed the fruit with full sweetness. Now, at the end of their winter storage, the last few are slightly wrinkled, but still superbly delicious.


Rock and alpine show and sale. The Vancouver Island Rock and Alpine Garden Society, now celebrating 100 years since its first meeting, will host its annual spring show and sale on Friday, April 1, 1 to 8 p.m., and Saturday, April 2, 1 to 5 p.m., at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. The show will feature choice rock, alpine, woodland and bog plants as well as demonstrations of crevice and bog gardens. There is limited registration for a Saturday morning symposium with visiting speakers. Find details at

Heather sale, The Vancouver Island Heather Society is pleased to be back staging its popular sale on Saturday, April 2, at the Stu Armour Building, Cobble Hill Fairgrounds on Fisher Road. The sale will begin at 10 a.m. and last until noon or until sold out. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions. For details and a list of plants that will be on sale visit

Dahlia sale. The Victoria Dahlia Society will once again hold its tuber sale online. An email list of members selling dahlia tubers can be obtained by emailing on or after Saturday, April 2. Buyers can then contact individual growers for their list of dahlia tubers.